It’s The Accountability, Stupid
For release Aug. 6 and thereafter (495 words)
by Craig Ladwig
The Associated Press headline screamed the news: “Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control.” The article suggested that someone, anyone, get control.
But our legislators are pumping out laws so fast they are hard pressed to even read them. The solution, rather than more control, is a renewal of the glue that holds a constitutional republic together — accountability.
The annual Gallup Annual Survey of Public Confidence in American Institutions found that the least-respected institution is Congress. No surprise there, but it’s worth noting that the rating is the lowest of any institution in the 35 years Gallup has been conducting its survey.
Congress is rated so low — only 12 percent of respondents with a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence — that it reflects what can only be utter public disdain. And the July Rasmussen Report found only nine percent responding that Congress was doing a “good” or “excellent” job.
It is hardly comforting that the highest ranked institutions were the military at 71 percent and the police at 58 percent. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal has a theory about this. He thinks it is because the military and the police are “self-reforming” institutions, both requiring self-discipline as a job requirement.
Democracy, clearly, has lost its ability to calm us.
All of this suggests that the American citizenry is poised for a historic turn — one toward those few remaining institutions it sees as accountable. And the turn will be made even if the institutions can offer accountability only through the discipline of a command structure. (Can it be an accident that self-government so often ends in “temporary” military or police rule?)
Locally, the Gallup findings seem applicable. Hoosiers are uncertain about their future. They have reason to doubt the self-discipline and the accountability of their legislatures, their chief executives, their city councils, their county councils and their judges.
Here are the talking points at our coffee table:
- Indiana schools, libraries, museums, convention centers, music halls, sports stadiums, economic development districts and dozens of other appointed quasi-governmental units hold tight the hands of bonding attorneys and architectural firms who walk them through the arcane world of government finance in exchange for percentage fees.
- In at least one Indiana city they want to put private businesses under the review of Neighborhood Code Enforcement. That makes two breathtaking assumptions: That the city’s inspectors would know more about maintaining a business than its owners; and that a business owned by, say, a politician's relative would not enjoy a certain advantage in the new scheme of things.
- In every Indiana city there are appointed members of planning and zoning boards moving other people's property around as if playing Monopoly, accountable only to rules understood only by the most specialized law firms.
And finally, several national newspaper chains, one owning influential dailies in Indiana, announce they will outsource certain types of copy editing to India.
With things spinning so, maybe that’s where they think the Indianians live.
T. Craig Ladwig is editor of the Indiana Policy Review, a quarterly journal commissioning articles on state and municipal issues.